Tuesday, December 1, 2009

eHarmony for Horses: If I Knew Then What I Know Now

I have been pretty lucky in my selection of horses ... until now. Starting out, I had trainers who helped me pick the best horses for my temperament. My temperament can be summed up in a single phrase: "I want to win!"

Luckily, my trainer helped me pick out a good match for my first real long-term equine partner: Marcus (he's the one in the picture). Marcus didn't necessarily want to win, but he did want to please. In wanting to please me, we won a lot. Marcus had an Earth horse personality, so he was always willing to please as long as I brought treats, plenty of treats. Earth type horses work for food.

Next, I had a couple of geldings I did fine with, and then I moved into the big adventure of training mustangs. When you go to pick out a mustang to adopt, unless you are planning to adopt one that has already been halter-broke or started under saddle, you basically get to choose your horse from a distance.

Mustangs: A Whole New World

I get all of my mustangs from the Canon City facility in Colorado, where BLM and the inmates at the prison facility work together to house, maintain, and train a bunch of mustangs (soon to number around 3,000). When I want to adopt a mustang, I drive 6 hours to facility on a scheduled adoption day, join a group of adopters, and wander through this giant facility.

Most of the mustangs are fairly wild, so mostly you stand outside a pen that holds between 30 and 500 mustangs, and you try to "pick" one that you think you would like. I've been lucky. My first mustang mare was Bella (you can read about her here), a gentle mare with an Earth horse personality. Again, as long as food was present, everything was fine.

My next mustang mare, Valentine, had a Wood horse personality. Her motto, "I will win!" matches mine pretty well. As long as we both want to win at the same event, we are unbeatable. On the events where we don't agree, forget it. You can't "make" Valentine do anything she doesn't want to do. But generally, I "ride the horse in the direction she's going," and we get along fine.

After that came three more mustangs, all with suitable horse personalities. All of them had strong personalities and could withstand some fairly tough training in multiple events. We do everything from team penning and sorting, to hunter/jumper and barrel racing. Fun stuff.

Along Came Walker
Then I got interested in the sport of reining, and I was told in no uncertain terms that my mustangs had neither the conformation nor genetic background to be reining horses. So I bought Walker, my first "expensive" luxury-model horse in a very long time (it costs only $125 to adopt a mustang). Wow, Walker was genetically and conformationally built to spin, stop, and lope circles. He was the perfect reining horse.

The only problem was that Walker was not the perfect reining horse for me. He and I do not have matching personality types. I have to admit that Walker was an impulse buy and that I never stopped to consider his horse personality type before I bought him. It turns out that Walker is a Shao Yin (Fire/Water) horse personality, which means that he is eager to please but also among the most fragile of all the personality types.

When Walker gets a small cut on his leg, his entire leg swells up like a balloon. When one of my mustang mares gets a cut, they don't even notice it. When Walker gets a stone bruise, he limps like he needs hit foot amputated. When the mustangs get a stone bruise, they lope a little slower on trail but otherwise don't care. When Walker gets his feelings hurt, he doesn't react outwardly, but immediately develops some kind of earth-shattering ailment. When the mustangs get upset, they have great fun refusing to be caught. Are you starting to see the difference here?

There is, of course, nothing wrong with Walker. He is a dream horse for most people. He will try his heart out for me and I love him dearly for his kindness, gentleness, and sweetness. I'm just not used to dealing with horse personality types that are "hothouse flowers." Had I known Walker was a Shao Yin before I bought him, I would have never bought him because I know that I am not the nurturing type. I'm a no-holds-barred tough zen cowgirl who needs a horse just as tough.

The Moral of This Story

So, while Walker and I are learning to get along together, I thank him for teaching me a valuable lesson:

Always test the personality of the horse you are about to buy before you buy him.

The test, which is the equivalent of eHarmony for horses, is free at You can read short summaries about the different horse personality types on the Horse Harmony website. Better yet, get the full scoop by reading the Horse Harmony book (order online here).

Figure out what type best suits your personality, the discipline in which you ride, and the management style you have. Pick the right type and you'll have a match made in heaven. Pick a type that's a little bit of a mismatch, and you may be looking for a different horse within a short period of time. So take the test (you can test yourself as well as any potential horse) and learn something about you, your existing horse, or a future horse. It's fun, it's free, and it's a learning experience!

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